The impact of learning communities on interpersonal relationships among medical students

Med Educ Online. 2016 Nov 1;21:32958. doi: 10.3402/meo.v21.32958. eCollection 2016.


Background: Medical students at the University of Virginia (UVA) are mentored and learn within the framework of a four college learning community. Uniquely, these learning communities are used to organize the third-year clerkship rotations.

Methods: Students were surveyed after their first pre-clinical year and after their clerkship year to determine what the effect of the learning community was on their social and educational interpersonal relationships.

Results: Students knew a higher percentage of their college mates after completing their third-year clerkships within the framework of the college system. Students chose peers from within the college system for social and educational interpersonal scenarios statistically more often than what would be expected at random. Small group learning environments that were not formed within the framework of the college system at UVA did not have the same effect on interpersonal relationships, indicating that learning communities are uniquely able to provide a context for relationship building. Students felt more positively about the social and educational effects of the college system after the clerkship year, with a corresponding increase in the strength of their interpersonal bonds with their college peers.

Conclusion: This work is the first to investigate the effects of learning communities on interpersonal relationships among medical students and finds that learning communities positively impact both social and educational medical student bonds.

Keywords: interpersonal relationships; learning communities; social networks.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Clerkship / organization & administration*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / organization & administration*
  • Environment
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Learning*
  • Peer Group
  • Students, Medical / psychology*